Resident status and access to the labour market

Resident status and access to the labour market

How are artists and creatives usually active in Germany – are they self-employed or employed? This and other related matters will be discussed in this section. Other common forms of work in the cultural sector, such as internships (Praktikum), job shadowing (Hospitanz) and voluntary service (Freiwilligendienst), will also be introduced.

The Forms of gainful activity – Introduction section provides a brief overview of the various forms of employment. The various forms of work are explained in more detail in the Self-employment, Employment, Internships, Job shadowing, Voluntary service, etc. subsections. Information
is also provided on which activities are permitted based on which residence status for artists and cultural sector workers from third countries - i.e. for citizens of countries that are not members of the European Union, the European Economic Area or Switzerland. In most cases, these have only limited access to the German labour market.


Access to the labour market – general information

Artists and persons engaged in the cultural sector usually have only limited access to the German labour market. Whether access is restricted or unrestricted depends on the residence status specified in the residence documents. The residence status determines what is permitted during a stay and what is not.

There is no "artist visa" and no special residence status for artists from third countries in Germany.

What residence status allows gainful activity?
In Germany, when we speak of gainful activity (Erwerbstätigkeit), the term covers employment (Beschäftigung als Arbeitnehmer*in/Angestellte*r) as well as self-employment (selbstständige Tätigkeit). There are two categories of self-employment (selbstständige Tätigkeit): freelancing (freiberufliche Tätigkeit) and operating a business (Gewerbe).

Information on what type of gainful activity is possible in Germany under which residence status can be found in the residence documents.
In Germany, the term "residence title" (Aufenthaltstitel) comprises various residence rights (visa, residence permit, settlement permit, etc.) (Visum, Aufenthaltserlaubnis, Niederlassungserlaubnis etc.); exceptional leave to remain (Duldung) and temporary residence permits for asylum seekers (Aufenthaltsgestattung) are considered residence documents (Aufenthaltspapiere). Residence titles are issued as a chip card with an accompanying document or as a sticker in the person's passport. The residence title is mentioned under "Type of title" ("Art des Titels") and the relevant paragraph of the Residence Act as the legal basis appears under "Notes" ("Anmerkungen"), along with any references to additional pages with ancillary provisions, etc. Some "Residence documents", are also available as folding cards or in simple paper form.

Sample documents for review can be found in the BMAS Leitfaden zu Arbeitsmarktzugang und -förderung. Flüchtlinge, Kundinnen und Kunden der Arbeitsmarktagenturen und Jobcenter (2017) handout (in German only).

  • A settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) grants full access to the labour market, with no further permission required from the authorities. The settlement permit is valid for an unlimited duration and can generally be applied for after five years of temporary residence (Aufenthaltserlaubnis).
  • A residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is temporary, i.e. it is valid for a fixed period of time. A residence permit is also issued for a particular purpose, i.e. it is valid for a specific position or a specific type of self-employment. The validity period and purpose are indicated in the residence permit or in the ancillary provisions of the residence documents (Nebenbestimmungen der Aufenthaltspapiere).

    Formally recognized refugees (anerkannte Geflüchtete) (Section 25 German Residence Act – Residence on humanitarian grounds) and persons with subsidiary protection status (Personen mit subsidiärem Schutz) (Section 24 German Residence Act – Granting of residence for temporary protection) with a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) usually have full access to the labour market. The residence documents include a reference that states "Gainful activity permitted" ("Erwerbstätigkeit gestattet"). In individual cases, they may state "Employment permitted. Self-employment permitted after authorisation by the Foreigners' Registration Office." ("Beschäftigung gestattet. Selbstständigkeit nach Erlaubnis der Ausländerbehörde gestattet."). This permits the individual to take up employment, but for self-employment, they will require the approval of the Foreigners' Registration Office.

    Persons with a residence permit issued for a specific purpose do not have full access to the labour market. The purpose is stated in the residence documents. They must be aware that they

    • can only take up an activity that is defined as the purpose of their stay (Section 21 German Residence Act – Self-employment; Section 21 (5) German Residence Act for freelance activities; Section 18 German Residence Act – Employment, etc.),
    • may only perform those activities which are permitted under the ancillary provisions and
    • may only work for the employer named in the ancillary provisions.

  • Asylum-seeking artists and persons engaged in the cultural sector with a temporary residence permit (Aufenthaltsgestattung) or persons with exceptional leave to remain (Duldung) are not allowed to work in Germany during the first three months of their stay; after four years they can generally take up any occupation. In the meantime, the ancillary provisions specified in the residence documents must be observed. As a rule, asylum seekers and persons with exceptional leave to remain are not permitted to take up self-employment.

Asylum seekers from countries deemed safe countries of origin are subject to a prohibition on employment if they have filed for asylum after August 31, 2015 and have obtained a temporary residence permit for asylum seekers or - following rejection of their application for asylum - have been granted exceptional leave to remain.  Safe countries of origin are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Senegal and Serbia according to Section 29a German Asylum Act (last updated: autumn 2018).

If an individual is not permitted to engage in gainful activity, he/she should consult a counselling centre to discuss further steps. An overview of the various counselling centres in question can be found here.


If a person applies for a residence permit for the purpose of pursuing a gainful activity in Germany, the person must decide whether he/she wishes to be self-employed or employed and which activities to apply for. If the application is for employment, the person must prove that they have received a specific job offer. It is possible to change the purpose of the stay, but this can involve considerable administrative effort.

Artists and creatives who have full access to the labour market should also be aware of the form of activity they are performing. Health insurance, taxation, etc. are subject to different regulations in Germany, depending on their exact status. Information on these topics will soon be available on this page.
Explanations regarding the different forms of gainful activity can be found here.

The Foreigners' Registration Office (Ausländerbehörde) is responsible for issuing permits for gainful activity (Foreigners' Registration Offices search page on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge) website). As a rule, the approval of the Federal Employment Agency (BA) (Bundesagentur für Arbeit (BA)) is also required. This agency is consulted automatically by the Foreigners' Registration Office.

If an individual is not permitted to engage in gainful activity, he/she should consult a counselling centre to discuss further steps. An overview of the various counselling centres in question can be found here.

A residence title issued in Germany only regulates an individual's stay and permitted activities in Germany. As a rule, it is possible to visit other countries in the Schengen area, but national regulations must be observed when working in another country!

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